Andy Fellows introduces a month of events and celebration, and welcomes staff and students to the LGBT forum.
What do we think of today when we say LGBT – ‘camp’ comedian Alan Carr, dancer and TV personality Louis Spence, pop musician Boy George, actor Jane Lynch who plays Sue Sylvester in Glee, or perhaps softly spoken QI host and actor Stephen Fry? Maybe ‘gay ally’ Lady Gaga’s flamboyant delivery of number one song ‘Born this Way’ comes to mind. But these are obvious, safe images that we can easily pigeonhole or dismiss without fear.
What of the less cosy, non-stereotypical faces of sexuality and gender identity of, say, OutRage! campaigner Peter Tatchell; alternative musician Peaches; politician and transgender mayor of Cambridge Jenny Bailey; American Muslim LGBT rights activist Faisal Alam; out gay basketball player (and LGBT History Month patron) John Amaechi; the Reverend Carl Bean, Archbishop of Unity Fellowship Church Movement; actor Jodie Foster; or out gay singer and Leeds Met alumnus Marc Almond?
Lesbian and gay MPs sit in Parliament in all the major parties and sexuality and gender reassignment are now ‘protected characteristics’ according to the 2010 Equality Act. We have come a long way on the road to equality and diversity, but the journey is far from over.
Historically, we might remember the imprisonment of writer Oscar Wilde and militant suffragette and composer Dame Ethyl Smyth, or of Alan Turing, key code-breaker at Bletchley Park during World War II and considered by many to be the father of modern computer science, who was prosecuted for his homosexuality and ultimately committed suicide.
In 2011, teacher and LGBT rights activist David Kato, who studied at York University, was murdered because of his sexuality on his return home to Uganda and, in the UK, a woman was jailed for seven years for the gay-hate killing of civil servant Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square.
Also in 2011, PR advisor Max Clifford told The Independent on Sunday that he had recently advised two high-profile gay Premier League footballers to stay in the closet, because football "remains in the dark ages, steeped in homophobia". And, in the wake of the Wales and Lions rugby international Gareth Thomas coming out, Clifford said that he could not foresee a prominent footballer doing the same in the near future: "If he did, it would effectively be his career over…"
So, while LGBT people have certainly become more visible in the media in the recent past, from Saturday night TV and soap characters to dramas and documentaries about our ancestors, we still often cling to unrealistic and restricted views of who LGBT people are and where they fit into our society, and these distorted images can lead to ignorance, hostility and, at worst, hate crimes.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans are all 20th-century terms, but they describe characteristics that have been a natural part of human experience from the very start.
LGBT people are beyond stereotypes: they are of every creed, colour, age, gender, ability and social class. They have contributed to the quality of your life, your education and your society on and off campus, in the UK and worldwide, whether you know it or not. And as a University, we have a unique opportunity to create an environment that welcomes, educates, promotes understanding and challenges stereotypes. Having an Equality & Diversity Policy is only a start.
LGBT History Month in the UK was started in February 2005 by activists and educators involved in the ‘School’s Out!’ organisation, taking inspiration from both the celebrations begun in 1994 in the US and Black History Month. It is an opportunity we should take to celebrate diversity in sexuality and gender identity and the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to our history and culture.
Our University LGBT Forum is more active now than ever and a bigger LGBT History Month celebration is already planned for 2013. New staff and student members are welcome at any time, so please join in and make your views heard. Enjoy the Students’ Union events and our web presence this year, in the knowledge that next time we celebrate, we will have an even more visible and representative presence, with a University-wide programme of events.
Look out for the literature display related to LGBT issues in both our Libraries throughout February. Details of the full range of events at the Students' Union starting on 12 February, which include a quiz night, film screenings and a Question Time, will be posted on the Events & Announcements page of our staff website.
To join the LGBT Forum please contact Bill Penson, tel: 24410.